Deregulate telehealth to increase access to care at lower cost

Published December 8, 2020

Unlike traditional in-person health care, telehealth offers affordable and accessible health care options for patients, especially those in rural and underserved communities. Telehealth, which focuses on patient-centered care via an app, has made great strides with the advent of smartphones and other technological breakthroughs.

According to a 2016 survey, 80% of telehealth patients accessing care via a mobile app preferred telehealth service compared to in-office visits.

As such, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has increased the use of telehealth for patients on these government-run programs, which has resulted in lower costs and greater access.

Unfortunately, government barriers often get in the way of access to telemedicine because of strict licensing laws and regulations that limit accurate payment reimbursement for doctors.

Overall, telehealth services offer a wide variety of remote options for patients, and in the era of COVID-19 flexible care options couldn’t be more needed. A recent study found that more than 40% of patients have delayed or avoided medical procedures and appointments out of fear of COVID-19.

The pandemic has opened a world of possibilities and shows just how successful American ingenuity can be when government simply gets out of the way. Expanding telehealth services ought to be a permanent solution, not a temporary one used during the current public health emergency.

Thankfully, a recent and final CMS ruling delivers on President Donald Trump’s executive order on Improving Rural Health and Telehealth Access, which adds more than 60 services to the Medicare telehealth list.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, actions by the Trump administration have unleashed an explosion in telehealth innovation, and we’re now moving to make many of these changes permanent,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

“Telehealth has long been a priority for the Trump administration, which is why we started paying for short virtual visits in rural areas long before the pandemic struck,” said CMS Administrator Seema Verma. “But the pandemic accentuated just how transformative it could be, and several months in, it’s clear that the healthcare system has adapted seamlessly to a historic telehealth expansion that inaugurates a new era in healthcare delivery.”

Preliminary data show that from March to October 2020 more than 24.5 million out of 63 million beneficiaries and enrollees received a Medicare telemedicine service. These delivered promises will meet the needs of our most vulnerable patients, especially those in nursing homes impacted by COVID-19.

Offering patients more options by merely rolling back regulations is a huge step in the right direction. However, to permanently codify telehealth expansion for the entire country, congressional action is needed. There is a dire need for permanent expansion and allowing these regulation rollbacks to expire in January would be a tremendous disservice to the American people.

States can act on their own, separate of Congress, and those enforcing regulations on telehealth ought to take note of the successes seen elsewhere and unleash telehealth market. Telehealth services ultimately save lives by lowering costs and increasing access to care, which is a goal shared by all Americans.

[Originally posted on The Detroit News]